[Dixielandjazz] Hampton's New Orleans Send-off
Sun, 08 Sep 2002 17:15:48 -0400
September 8, 2002 - New York Times
With a New Orleans-Style Send-Off, a Joyful Noise for a Cat Named Lionel
By ALAN FEUER
They say that Psalm 100 was Lionel Hampton's favorite. The psalm
begins: "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord."A joyful noise was made
yesterday, though it was not made unto the Lord alone. It was made unto
jazz men, holy rollers and Washington politicians. It was made unto an
entire stretch of upper Broadway as a New Orleans band led Mr. Hampton's
coffin from the Cotton Club in Harlem
to a memorial service at the Riverside Church.
Mr. Hampton, who died at the age of 94 a week ago, was the swing era
master who revolutionized the art of playing the vibraphone. He played
with Louis Armstrong, Benny Carter and Benny Goodman in the 1920's and
30's. Later he campaigned for Republican presidents like Richard M.
Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush.
The dirges had the stumbling rhythms of a drunk, but Mr. Hampton's
coffin was carried in stately fashion by a horse-drawn carriage. The
carriage was white, and it was driven by a horseman dressed in a morning
suit with top hat. It progressed from West 125th Street, turned south
beneath the elevated train, then wound its way up the hills of
Morningside Heights to the vaulted doors of the church.
The Gully Low Jazz Band, trailed playing standards like "St. James
Infirmary Blues." The nine-man band consisted of a clarinet, a drum, a
washboard and various horns. A crowd of the curious and mournful fell in
behind it and formed a loping musical cortege. There were straw hats and
seersucker suits, Kangols and Armanis. There were Frenchmen holding
cellphones in the air so Hampton fans in Paris could listen.
David Ostwald, the jazz band's leader, played on the same bill as Mr.
Hampton at Queens College years ago. He said Mr. Hampton supported the
younger generation of jazz musicians every chance he got.
"Hamp always had his arm around you — he was an all-around beautiful
cat," Mr. Ostwald said. "Far as I'm concerned, he's transitioned to
The sanctuary of Riverside Church is cavernous, and when Mr. Ostwald led
his band inside, the brassy dirges echoed off the marble walls. Mr.
Hampton's coffin was laid near the altar, where it rested throughout the
two-hour service. There was a lot of music at the service, which at
times became so joyous that one could forget it was meant to memorialize
Lil Howell sang a spiritual called "Holding On" and brought the house
down. Roy Hargrove, Jon Faddis and Wynton Marsalis traded off on trumpet
riffs. There were old-time greats like Clark Terry and Cyrus Chestnut
and Hank Jones.
Illinois Jacquet, a saxophonist who used to play in Mr. Hampton's band,
got a little carried away with stories of Mr. Hampton. The Rev. Dr.
James A. Forbes Jr., the church's minister, had to prod him gently to
put his microphone away and pick up his famous horn.
There were plenty of speakers, too. The Rev. Calvin O. Butts 3rd, pastor
of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, told the congregation that
Mr. Hampton's spirit was finally flying home. (In 1942, Mr. Hampton made
one of the more influential recordings in the history of American music:
Representative Charles B. Rangel recalled sneaking into the Apollo
Theater to see Mr. Hampton play. Mr. Rangel said that although the
Hampton sound would be sorely missed, it could still be heard at certain
"There's a great party going on up in Heaven," he said. "They are
jamming, I'm sure."
George H. W. Bush, the former president, showed up to eulogize Mr.
Hampton with memories of the old days. Describing himself as a
"laid-back Episcopalian," Mr. Bush said he loved Mr. Hampton's tunes.
Mr. Bush was director of central intelligence in 1976, and he told the
story of an nasty afternoon when the agency took a beating during
Congressional hearings. Somehow, Mr. Hampton heard that morale was low.
He brought his band to Washington at once.
"They performed for a crowd in our little bubble at headquarters," Mr.
Bush recalled. "They sure did enchant the Central Intelligence Agency of
the United States of America."